Parties Vying for Coveted Knesset Job - While Post Still Occupied

Parliamentary factions began vying yesterday the coveted position of Knesset Finance Committee chair, which may be up for grabs if Yisrael Beiteinu quits the coalition, as it has been threatening to do.

The position, currently held by Yisrael Beiteinu MK Stas Misezhnikov, holds a great deal of influence over directing government budgets.

The right-wing party's chair, Avigdor Lieberman, has stated he may leave the coalition over the government's talks with the Palestinians. If this happens, the seat could be awarded to another faction.

"Soon I will have lots of time to come and participate in the Economic Affairs Committee," Misezhnikov jokingly said yesterday, referring to the possibility of him leaving his current time-consuming position, which he has held for only nine months.

Aside from Labor and Kadima, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) is considered a natural candidate to inherit the position from Yisrael Beiteinu, given the two parties' long affiliation, and because the former can muster votes from its five MKs to bolster the coalition.

UTJ's MK Yakov Litzman, who represents the Gur Hasidic group, held the post from 2001 until 2007. During his long tenure, Litzman was considered cooperative with the treasury, easily passing many of its proposals. When his demands that the state increase stipends to large families by NIS 1 billion were rejected, his party quit the coalition and the position was handed to Misezhnikov.

Government sources believe that giving the position to UTJ, an ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi party, will balance its recent deal with the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party, Shas, which received the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Another option on the table is giving the position to MK Haim Oron of Meretz, in return for the support of his party's five MKs. However, Oron, who is running to lead his party, yesterday said he would reject such an offer.

Yisrael Beiteinu officials said they are not ruling out the option of Misezhnikov remaining in his position even if the party leaves the coalition, a move that has had some precedents.

Doing so would let Misezhnikov serve as a link between Lieberman and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who would occasionally receive Yisrael Beiteinu's support, party officials said.